Chargers vs. Chiefs matchups: Another rookie record in reach for Justin Herbert

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert warms up before a game against the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 13.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (6-9) and the Kansas City Chiefs (14-1) match up on the field for Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium at 1:25 p.m. PT. (TV: Fox)

When Chargers have the ball: Most of this Chargers season has been about Justin Herbert. So why would the 2020 finale be any different? Herbert already has the NFL single-season rookie record with 28 touchdown passes. On Sunday, he needs six completions and 341 yards to set the rookie marks in those categories. Herbert has had two games — Week 7 against Jacksonville and Week 11 against the New York Jets — with at least 341 yards. He also has a shot to set the rookie record for most games with multiple touchdown throws. He and Baker Mayfield are tied with nine. Herbert’s completion percentage for the season is 66.3, which ranks fourth all-time in franchise history. Philip Rivers has each of the top three (69.5, 68.3, 66.5). The Chargers are 6-9 and going nowhere but straight into the offseason. So where Herbert’s impressive first-year numbers end is the most intriguing aspect of this game. He made his first start in Week 2 against the Chiefs and, for much of the afternoon, outplayed Patrick Mahomes. Herbert finished 22 of 33 for 311 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. The pickoff was crucial in that it led to a Kansas City touchdown in the fourth quarter. Mahomes eventually rallied the Chiefs in coming back from 11 points down to win 23-20 in overtime.

Chargers numbers.
(Los Angeles Times)

When Chiefs have the ball: Chad Henne made his most recent NFL start on Sept. 21, 2014, when he was playing for Jacksonville and the Jaguars were being coached by Gus Bradley. For the last four seasons, Bradley has been the Chargers’ defensive coordinator. Henne has thrown only 11 passes since that game, with six coming this season in mop-up relief of Mahomes. Henne made his NFL debut in 2008 with Miami. At the time, Herbert was 10. Henne’s first game came against an Arizona team that featured Kurt Warner at quarterback. Late in the game, with the Cardinals en route to a 31-10 victory, Warner was replaced by Matt Leinart. The Chiefs clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC last weekend with a 17-14 victory over Atlanta. The moment that decision was final, this game was reduced to also-ran status, meaning three of
the Chargers’ final four games had no impact on the playoffs. That seems rather discouraging, particularly in a season
with an expanded postseason field.

When they kick: Michael Badgley had his most productive game of the season last weekend, with four field goals and an extra point in a 19-16 win over Denver. He has kicked the deciding field goal in the final minute in two of the last three games. Harrison Butker has missed six extra points (45 of 51) and only two field goals (25 of 27) for the Chiefs. Butker had two 58-yard field goals against the Chargers in September, including the winner in overtime.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: The Chargers will finish this season being favored in five of their final seven games, something that would have seemed impossible when they were sitting at 2-7 and had lost seven of eight. With so many regulars on both sides sitting out, let’s go with Herbert being the difference.